The Strategic Partnership Agreement, which Washington and Kabul have been discussing for over a year, will be the framework for US involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the last foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan.
Afghanistan wants the United States and Nato to agree to stop carrying out night raids on Afghan homes as a precondition for signing an agreement with Washington and a timeline to assume control over detention centres.
But while the rules covering night raids and air strikes have been tightened, they continue to cause great resentment among many Afghans. Movement on the detention issue has also stalled, causing a deadlock.
“The impasse in talks could threaten the strategic partnership,” said an Afghan foreign ministry official.
Relations have been heavily strained in recent weeks over the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book at a Nato base, which triggered violent protests and prompted some Afghan security forces to turn their weapons on American soldiers.
A senior Afghan government official told Reuters that Kabul has been pressing the Americans hard to hand over the detention facility at Nato’s Bagram airbase, where the Qurans were burned. “The United States government thinks Afghanistan does not have the ability or the international standards to run the prison and also insists that night raids can’t be stopped overnight as it’s a key tool against the insurgents,” he said.
“The United States government believes that Afghan forces are not yet ready to take over the control of night raids from US troops.”
US embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall suggested a pact may not be possible. “We have always said it is more important to get the right agreement than to get an agreement,” he said in a statement.
Without a strategic partnership, the United States may find it difficult to maintain a presence in the form of advisors in the country after 2014. That would raise the possibility of prolonged instability in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, two civilians were killed Monday in a suicide attack at a gate to the US military base at Bagram north of the Afghan capital Kabul, an official said. Taliban insurgents claimed the bombing, saying it was in revenge for the burning of Qurans at the base two weeks ago. “A suicide attacker came out of a truck and blew up his vest outside Bagram airfield (at a gate used by supply vehicles),” provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi told AFP.
“As a result, two people are killed and four wounded, all were civilians.” He said no US troops were among the fatalities.
“The attack took place in retaliation for the Quran burning,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an SMS message to AFP.
The Quran burning in an incinerator pit two weeks ago ignited days of violent anti-US protests in which some 40 people died, plunging relations between foreign forces and their Afghan allies to an all-time low. Last Monday a suicide car bombing claimed by the Taliban - also in revenge for the Quran incident - targeted Nato troops at an airport in eastern Afghanistan, killing nine people but no foreign soldiers.
Meanwhile, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday that the burning of copies of the Quran at a US military base in Afghanistan was “unintentional,” contradicting the findings of an Afghan investigation, dpa reported.
“The preliminary results of the investigations that have been initiated reveal that this incident was unintentional. The facts show that there was no malicious intent to mishandle religious material,” he told reporters in Brussels.
He described the incident as “very unfortunate,” adding: “Our commanders in Afghanistan will make decisions about the appropriate next steps ... to avoid such incidents in the future.”